“People come, people go, nothing ever happens.”
This lovely little one-liner is given to us at the beginning of “Grand Hotel”. The opening scene has all the characters using the hotel's phone and setting the tone for the movie. One is an expecting father, another is an uptight business man, the other is dying, one is a stenographer wanting to be an actress, one of them is a temperamental ballerina, and one is a baron. After a few minutes of them talking and abrupt cuts to another character, the camera fades out and focuses on an elderly man sitting in a chair—nothing ever happens.
I really like the idea behind this film, what kind of people come in and out of a hotel? A hotel is one place where a host of characters can come together in complex ways without a second thought given. For the hotel itself seems like an entity in the picture, encasing the characters and providing a set for their drama to unfold. And what twisted patterns they yield.
One of them is a thief, one of them is scared of being rejected, one of them is cheating on their spouse, one of them is purely too innocent for their own good, and only one of them can keep a cool head. From the start, it seems like “Grand Hotel” was originally meant for the stage from the way it’s done. The fade-outs after scenes end and the use of rooms, etcetera etcetera.
There is no main character to this film, it seems to hover around three or four. The Baron, John Barrymore, who is a nice man with a shady disposition who can seemingly charm himself out of any tight positions he finds himself in. The Dancer, embarrassingly played by Greta Garbo who really is the worst part of this film. The Stenographer, who is my favorite character played by Joan Crawford wonderfully—she’s a smart girl who can take care of herself, a gem in this era of film. Then there’s Otto Kringelein, who is portrayed by a very young Lionel Barrymore. It’s hard to imagine Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life” in this role but that’s where my mind kept traveling to.
Ultimately, although it’s a smart idea, the execution is a little hazy.
The same problem I had with “The Broadway Melody” arises again in this film. A man can fall in love with a woman in seconds just because she’s beautiful. He can give his heart to her to hold with her delicate little hands, just because she’s pretty. And the woman is not clever enough to realize that it’s just a physical attraction. She just falls back in love as easily as he fell for her.
The script needs a lot of work, but I feel that this is a picture that could use a remake, a well-done, non-3D remake. Consider my suggestions: leave the film in black and white, get a better script, make it even darker than it already is and knock yourself out.
I was starting to loose my patience with the film as it traveled from character to character in a charming but somewhat pointless fashion, only implementing one or two techniques that made me pay attention for a second. Other than that, it was fairly droll.
But I have to admit, I was very happy with the ending. It nicely wrapped up the themes that had been dangling in the air wanting something to be done with them.
The hotel then became a symbol of how one can travel through life with a facade and no one could ever know. How money corrupts so many yet is so vital and can do so much good in the right hands.
If the Baron and the Stenographer had their own movies I would watch them, but other than them and the ending, this movie is less than staggering.
Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4